The College of Law has an unprecedented amount of students from the class of 2017 accepted into the Judge Advocate General (JAG) Corps Program following graduation. Four students Christina White, Kevin Farrelly, Hannah Toland, and Kacy Dixon will embark on a legal military career in a field that is extremely competitive to enter.
Judge Advocates are commissioned officers in the U.S. armed forces that serve as legal advisors within the branch. The scope of practice area is extensive, and Judge Advocates will likely practice a wide breadth of the law before progressing towards a specialization.
Depending on the service branch, the acceptance rate for JAG Corps applicants is typically between 4-7%. The Army, for instance, receives about 4000 applications every year and only accepts around 200.
White, Farrelly, and Toland will all be joining ranks in the U.S. Army JAG, while Dixon will be continuing a career with the U.S. Air Force.
Captain Scott Reitor of the U.S. Army JAG Corps, who performs the entrance interviews for hopeful candidates in the Mountain West region, describes what qualities an ideal candidate possesses.
“The Army JAG Corps prides itself on the ‘whole-person’ concept for applicants,” he explains. “Physical fitness and academics certainly figure prominently in the process, but we are also looking for demeanor and professional appearance. In particular, the real thing that sets people apart is the sincerity of wanting to join.”
Consistent with the ‘whole-person’ notion, the interview process is a crucial step for applicants to demonstrate their ability to work well under pressure.
“A good attorney can work at any law firm,” says Capt. Reitor. “What we are looking for is someone that we can work with on a professional level, but also someone that can cope day in and day out in a less than hospitable situation.”
Captain John Malek of the U.S. Air Force JAG Corps echoes that sentiment. “The interview is the part of the process that really impacts an applicant the most,” he says. “Things like prior military experience are helpful, but we are really looking for people that have the ability to interface well with the establishment.”
Coincidentally, White, Farrelly, and Toland all served as a Student Director for one of the College of Law’s seven legal clinics or practicums. These positions not only require a high level of professionalism, but also the ability to manage an intense workload.
“I tell people to study the area of the law that interests you because one, you will tend to excel at what you enjoy, and two, it will show that you have passion and interest and you indulge that,” says Capt. Reitor. “The take away from these three students is that their involvement in the Clinics highlighted that they had an interest in the law, and that they pursued it. It shows commitment and motivation.”
Though White, Farrelly, Toland and Dixon all share a common interest and have passionately worked towards that goal, they are each unique individuals with their own strengths and qualifications.
Christina White serves as the Student Director for the Estate Planning Practicum. She is originally from Charleston, West Virginia where she studied Criminal Justice and Criminology at Marshall University. There she earned both a Bachelor’s degree and a Master’s degree.
With three older brothers in the military, White has flirted with the idea of joining the service all her life. It wasn’t until she started law school that she felt her passion for the law and the allure of the military were reconciled with the possibility of becoming a JAG Corps Officer. With an older brother that served as an airborne Ranger, White felt a particular connection to the army.
Confident in her decision, she began the arduous application process. “It took three months to fill out the application, it is so detailed,” she explains. “You have to include all of your academic records, your employment history, meet with a filtering officer who then submits a report on you… It is similar to the character and fitness process for the Bar exam, but even more extreme.”
It was a long process, but it was worth it for White. She feels particularly self-assured with her ability to succeed as a JAG Officer because of her clinical experience. “When you are in the JAG, you are of course a solider first,” she says. “But I feel really prepared to tackle the legal side of the job because I feel like I got really good exposure and practical skills through the Clinic.”
White is in it for the long haul. A term is four years and she is planning to stay in at least twenty. “It is a relief to know that I am finally in and that I have a future,” she says. “I am anticipating it to be a long future. It’s exciting to know that my life long goal was to go into the service and it is about the begin.”
Kevin Farrelly also hails from a military background. With a father in the service for thirty-plus years, it seemed like a natural fit. Kevin is a native of Portland, Oregon. He attended BYU-Idaho for his undergraduate degree and graduated magna cum laude with a degree in Sociology. Prior to entering law school, Farrelly served as a police officer in Portland for four years.
It was his experience on the force that inspired him to go to law school. “Working for the police department, I enjoyed seeing how the law was able to impact and help people,” he says. “As a police officer I felt I could help one or two people in the community, but as an attorney, I’d be able to help countless more on a wider scale.”
During his tenure at the College of Law, Farrelly has served as the Student Director for the Prosecution Assistance Clinic. Through the Clinic, he has been involved in numerous cases on behalf of the State of Wyoming, and has even argued before the Wyoming Supreme Court.
In addition to the Clinic, Farrelly also served as a Judicial Extern for the Honorable E. James Burke, of the Wyoming Supreme Court. He believes that gaining first-hand experience and working directly with the legal community in the state has been incredibly rewarding and wants to continue on that path.
“Becoming an attorney was all about helping people,” he says. “I’ve served my community; I’ve served my state. What better way is there to help people than serving my country?”
Hannah Toland serves as the Student Director for the Defender Aid Program. Raised in Powell, she attended the University of Wyoming for her undergraduate degree, earning a Bachelor of Arts in Criminal Justice.
Toland was drawn to the idea of the JAG program by the promise of seeing the world, and creating a good platform for starting a career in law.
“Joining the JAG is going to be a really good way to find out what I’m good at,” she says. “The beauty of the program is that it allows you to try a lot of different practice areas and go to a lot of different places. It really plays to your strengths, so it will be interesting to see where I end up.”
Toland hopes to be deployed right away so she can travel and feels confident that she will succeed in the program.
“My experience in the Clinic has been the best preparation I could have asked for,” she remarks. “Working in the Defender Aid Clinic specifically has made me extremely comfortable with criminal law and familiar with federal rules which are applicable everywhere. I feel like it has certainly given me the edge.”
Toland is also no stranger to the courtroom. Doing mostly appellate work in the Clinic, she has spent time regularly before a Judge and has also argued before the Wyoming Supreme Court.
“The skills I gained in law school have really prepared me for this,” she explains. “Normally I would find the JAG really intimidating, but I now feel well-prepared, confident, and excited to embark on this exciting career.”
Kacy Dixon will be joining the JAG Corps, but in a different branch of the military. With prior service in the U.S. Air Force as an Intelligence Officer, Dixon will be returning to their ranks as a JAG Officer.
“I found active duty military service to be extremely rewarding,” she says. “The opportunity to combine service with the practice of law is so appealing to me because it combines the best of both worlds.”
Dixon grew up in Cheyenne. She completed her undergraduate degree at the University of Wyoming in Criminal Justice. She also participated in the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) program and graduated as the Distinguished Graduate in 2009.
With an interest in law and government, Dixon decided that law school would be a good fit after four years of active duty. She returned to Wyoming to pursue her law degree.
Dixon has gained practical legal experience during law school by participating in the externship program. She competed two different externships, both in the Department of Defense.
“The externship program was a really great way to see the world of law in terms of application,” she says. “It really allowed me to apply the theoretical knowledge I had received in class and get a feel for the law in practice.”
During her externship, Dixon was also able to shadow a JAG Officer. The experience of observing trial preparation and sitting in on a pre-trial hearing really solidified her decision to apply.
“That single day of exposure really helped to change my mind about trial work and broadened my ideas about what I’d really like to do,” she says.
With a clear picture of her goals going forward, Dixon is ready to take the next step.
“I’m very honored to have been accepted in the program and I’m really looking forward to what the future has in store for me.”
The College of Law is extremely proud of these four students and wishes them the best of luck in the future!